While only two games in either conference final have been played, it already seems as if we have our NBA Finals matchup, as both Miami and San Antonio have looked thoroughly dominant.
The Spurs have put on an absolute basketball clinic in dismantling and discarding the Oklahoma City Thunder, making one of the best teams in the league look exceptionally average. Tony Parker, Tim Duncan and company are playing fundamentally perfect basketball, which includes everything from their defensive rotations to their ball movement on offense.
If any team has ever played like a machine, it’s the 2011-12 San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are currently riding a 20-game win streak, and they are showing no signs of slowing down. While I expect the Thunder to take one game from the Spurs, I don’t see much hope of them reaching the NBA Finals.
In the East, Miami has recovered from a surprising 2-1 deficit against Indiana to rally and win their last five. Both LeBron James and Dwyane Wade are playing at a level we haven’t seen from two teammates since Jordan and Pippen. For perhaps the first time since LeBron came to Miami, both superstars seem in perfect rhythm with each other, and the Heat have greatly benefited from it.
The Celtics have put up a great fight so far, but despite playing a near perfect game on Wednesday, including an all-time great performance from Rajon Rondo, they trail 2-0. And it feels as if the gap between the two teams is even greater. With an energy-draining overtime loss yesterday I don’t expect the Celtics to recover and win the series; at best, they win two games.
So that takes us to the match up we all want to see, or at least we all expect. The Miami Heat against the San Antonio Spurs. One team is based on two superstars and the other based is on the entire team. One team is built through free agency and one team is built through the draft and development of players. One team is built the new way through signing superstars and one team is built the old-fashioned way.
Despite the Heat being preseason favorites, a lot of experts and analysts seem to be picking the Spurs as champions already because they have dominated the playoffs unlike any team we have seen in a very long time. One would have to go back to the 1999 Spurs or Jordan’s Bulls to see a team play this well throughout the playoffs. Basketball writers, such as Bill Simmons and Stephen A. Smith, have both said they don’t see anyone stopping the Spurs en route to the NBA championship.
However, Miami does have a not-so-secret weapon in Chris Bosh. Bosh, who has not played since suffering an ab strain in Game 1 against the Indiana Pacers, may be the player who tilts the title in Miami’s favor. With LeBron, Wade and company holding it down extremely well, any impact Bosh has from now on will seem like a bonus for the Heat.
But, for the Heat to use Bosh successfully, Erik Spoelstra should bring Bosh off the bench instead of having him in the starting lineup.
Much like what Popovich and the Spurs do with Manu Ginobili, bringing an All-Star-caliber player off the bench allows you to rest your starters without taking all your prime talent of the court. For a team like Miami that struggles to get production from their bench, making Bosh a sixth man could turn a weakness into a strength.
Another aspect of the game that favors bringing Bosh off the bench is his place in Miami’s primary offense. Namely, he is the third option behind LeBron James and Dwyane Wade, something that he and the Heat have never really been comfortable with.
Some people forget that Chris Bosh was once a Second Team All-NBA selection during his time in Toronto, and in his final season with the Raptors, he averaged 24 points per game and nearly 11 boards. All of this was achieved as Toronto’s primary option and go-to guy. With James and Wade on the court Bosh will never be the first option, but if he comes off the bench with Udonis Haslem and Mike Miller, he will be the primary option.
With Bosh comfortable as the main guy on the court, he should be able to produce like he did in Toronto, while providing some much-needed rest and aid to LeBron and Wade.
Also with Bosh coming on as a substitute, he will be matched up against Tiago Splitter and Matt Bonner instead of Tim Duncan. So now, not only is Bosh playing in his preferred role as the main guy, he is also playing against the Spurs' backups.
Against the backups, Bosh should have his way on the court, scoring and rebounding the ball easier. The Spurs often bring in Ginobili against other teams' backups, and he quickly brings in the game into San Antonio’s favor. With Bosh coming off the bench, Miami may not only be able to minimize Ginobili’s impact, but they might even take their own advantage with the starters off the court.
Bringing Bosh off the bench has too many advantages for the Heat. With Bosh out, LeBron and Wade transcended to a place they haven’t been before, and their on-court chemistry has reached an all-time high. Adding Bosh straight into the starting lineup may upset that chemistry, which would be devastating to the Heat.
So by bringing him off the bench, the Heat are essentially maintaining LeBron and Wade’s synchronicity, allowing Bosh to steadily ease himself back in form and shape.
These are all advantages the Heat must consider if they wish to stop the machine that is the San Antonio Spurs. Without Bosh, I can't see the Heat winning the finals because the Spurs will exploit their inability to score from the post and match up anyone with Tim Duncan. However with a healthy Bosh coming off the bench in the role I envisioned, the Heat should be the favorites to win the NBA Finals.